The Summer Theory Institute (STI), founded in 2008 by HLS alumnae Nisha Agarwal ‘06 and Jocelyn Simonson ’06, is a workshop for HLS students with public interest internships in New York City. STI provides an opportunity for HLS students to reflect critically on their internships, to think about the role of social theory in legal practice, and to connect with and learn from other public-interest-minded students and alumni.
The mission of STI is to infuse excitement, innovation and sustainability into the fellows’ initial experiences practicing public interest law full-time. Working together to think through the role that social theory can play in legal practice and activism allows the fellows to engage more meaningfully with their organizations’ methods of pursuing justice on a day-to-day basis. By creating the space to discuss larger theoretical concepts outside of the work environment, STI enhances the fellows’ senses of the potential for intellectual rigor and personal fulfillment in public interest work. STI aims to create a community of future leaders who will bring their enthusiasm for pursuing social change through the law back to the HLS community at the end of the summer.
For ten weeks over the summer, fourteen institute fellows will meet with the facilitators one evening a week to discuss works of social and critical theory as they relate to the fellows’ public interest work. At each session, the group will engage with a different set of short theoretical readings, each focused loosely around a theme that relates to the students’ public interest work (e.g., economic justice, women’s rights). Although the readings will be tailored to the interests of the group, some examples of the types of thinkers we might engage with include Pierre Bourdieu, F.A. Hayek, bell hooks, and Kwame Anthony Appiah. It is also our hope to meet at least once with students from other law schools in New York engaging in similar theory-practice discussions.
STI fellows will receive a grant of $1000 to supplement their public interest funding. The grant will be disbursed in two installments of $500, the first to be paid at the beginning of the summer, and the second to be paid upon completion of the following:
- Attend and participate in all ten evening sessions;
- Prepare for each group meeting ahead of time;
- Lead one week’s discussion;
- Attend a case study training session; and
- Complete a case study related to your public interest organization.
In addition, if any of the fellows are interested in reflecting more formally on the relationship between theory and their summer public interest experiences, STI will help connect them to professors who would be willing to supervise larger writing projects for law school credit when they return to HLS.
We are no longer accepting applications for summer 2013, but applications for the next session will be due in the spring of 2014.
No experience with social or critical theory is necessary to participate. Instead, we are looking for a group of fellows who are excited about public interest work and open to thinking in innovative and sometimes critical ways about that work. While we understand that HLS students may not finalize their summer plans until after the application deadline, all fellows will eventually be required to secure a summer internship with a public interest organization in New York City. Fellows must be located in New York City for the full ten weeks of STI. Please do not hesitate to contact Sean and Cara if you have any questions. We are also happy to put you in contact with fellows from previous years to find out more about their experiences. Download the 2013 application info sheet >
Cara Suvall, STI Alumna and Facilitator, is a public defender at the Bronx Defenders, Inc. She was a 2010 recipient of the Initiative for Public Interest Law at Yale fellowship to work on education issues affecting young clients involved in the criminal justice system in the Bronx. She is currently one of two attorneys in the Adolescent Defense Project at The Bronx Defenders, working to represent 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds being prosecuted in adult court. While at Harvard Law School, Cara was executive editor for special projects for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, co-executive director of the Prison Legal Assistance Project, co-president of Advocates for Education and active in the Criminal Justice Institute and Trauma & Learning Policy Initiative clinics.
Sean Hill, STI Alum and Faciliator, is currently a staff attorney at Youth Represent, where he will be implementing a family court project this coming fall as an Equal Justice Works fellow. While at Harvard Law School, he served as the co-chair of the Leadership and Mentorship Program (LAMP) of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) for two consecutive years, and pursued several clinical opportunities with the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, Criminal Justice Institute, and Trauma & Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI).
Nisha Agarwal, STI Co-Founder and Advisor, is the co-founder and deputy director of the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a high-impact national organization that provides legal and organizing support to grassroots groups around the country to build community power and advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial justice agenda at the state and local level. Nisha comes to CPD after over five years at the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, where she was a Skadden Fellow and director of the Health Justice Program.
Jocelyn Simonson, STI Co-Founder and Advisor, is currently an acting assistant professor of lawyering at NYU Law School. Prior to joining NYU, Jocelyn worked for five years as a public defender at the Bronx Defenders, where she was a supervising attorney and team leader. Jocelyn also clerked for the Honorable Barrington D. Parker, Jr. on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Since its inception in the summer of 2008, institute fellows have worked with a variety of dynamic public service organizations, including:
- The Bronx Defenders
- New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
- The ACLU
- The NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund
- Sanctuary for Families
- The Environmental Protection Agency
- Advocates for Children
- National Employment Law Project
- Connecticut Legal Services
- Make the Road New York
Download a printable info sheet >